Panang

Trip Start Nov 18, 2002
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Penang 17th to 22nd February 2009
Our mission to Penang started early. We said fond farewells to the staff and our little house which had been our perfect chill-out spot for the last 2 weeks nearly. Then it was a short walk over to Pataya Beach where we found the 'immigration office'. Office being a loose term for a small wooden shack. Open on 2 sides it resembled a beach bar but without the drinks bottles on display or accompanying boom boom music. The immigration officers were suitably dressed in beach attire consisting of bare feet in board shorts and t-shirts. I would loved to have taken a photo but was forbidden to do so for 'security' reasons!!! Being as we are so used to Thailand and its laid-back culture we had no qualms at handing over our treasured passports only to be told we would not get them back until we had reached Langkawi, Malaysia.
At 9.30 we were all instructed to board some long tail boats which then ferried all 30 of us to what can only be described as an ex dredging barge. Situated about 500 meters off the shore this was our 'holding' pontoon in no-mans land. There we just stood/sat and waited for our speed boat. We waited a good 45 minutes......
Scanning the bay Martin and I guessed that of all the speed boats moored about the bay (and there were at least 8) ours had to the boat with one of its 4 engines in parts, strewn across the sand. About 4 Thai men stood around it. The usual scene of one working while the other 3 watched! Eventually they must have worked out where all the parts went as it was ready to go and duly turned up at no-mans land with all engines in tact, fingers crossed! We all hopped aboard and were instructed to wear our life jackets and once they were all on and clipped up, off we sped.
The sea was very calm, the boat hardly bumping out of the water. Then at some point there was a loud 'thud' and the boat made a big jolt making everyone gasp. The boat driver slowed to a stop and whilst a couple of men checked the propellers it left us wondering what the hell happened? Then as 'if by magic' to defuse the situation a pod of dolphins surfaced by our boat. We counted 12 dolphins breaking the surface in one go. It appeared that all engines were still ok so the boat driver steered his boat slowly to keep with the pod. It was certainly a great distraction from what had happened just earlier. After about 10 minutes the pod disappeared and we carried on our way to the island of Langkawi with no further problems from the engines.
The journey took just under one hour and cost 1200 Baht each (24) which is expensive for Thailand but we were told that it was because the immigration costs were high? We gathered it must be for all those non-official looking beach uniforms they have to wear!!!
We disembarked at the Marina in Langkawi full of swanky posh yachts and motor cruisers and there we waited while our passports were taken in one big bag to immigration. About 45 minutes later a woman appeared. She called our names out one by one and we got our passport back with a free 60 day Malaysian visa.
Then we took a taxi (15 Ringit each) to the other side of the island to the main ferry port where we bought boat tickets for 30 Ringit each (6) to Penang.
We had some time to kill before our next boat so we took advantage of the free Wifi in KFC and ate there.
On checking the latest weather forecast together with looking out of the restaurant window we watched the palm trees sway in the wind. One hoped we wouldn't be taking a second taster of this meal laid out on a tray before us, out at sea!!!
At 5pm we boarded the ferry (similar to the one we took to Koh Lipe) which was doing more than its fair share of bobbing about on the water, and that was in the port where it should have been more sheltered! Oh no can we feel KFC part 2 coming on???
Once the boat got going out to sea it was actually much calmer than anticipated and we were spared the delights of a Coronal Saunders belly churning meal for a second time, thankfully.
Around 7pm and we arrived safely at the port of George Town Penang. A mass of taxi drivers wielding their laminated 'fixed price' sheets were there to greet us. Already knowing how much we should be paying (as I asked the hotel when I booked the room) we had offers of 25, 20 15 ringit......we just walked on.....until one guy said 12. Bingo! You gave the correct answer....so we went with him leaving the other guys huffin' and puffin' whilst tapping their finger to their over inflated so called fixed price (my ar**) sheet. Dream on guys.
We are staying in a huge room in Hotel Mingood. Back in the land of luxury with air conditioning, HOT water in a real bath as apposed to just a cold water shower on Koh Lipe although we do miss the outdoor bathroom experience.
There is Wifi here which is always a bonus. Although I am so behind with this blog......as Martin likes to remind me, often!!!
The next morning we have our free breakfast on the roof terrace. We can see all the roof tops for miles around.
We make enquiries down at reception about how we go about getting our 60 day visa for Thailand. They advise us that for an extra 20 Ringit (4) on top of the normal visa fee, the hotel could have our passports back to us this afternoon at 3pm complete with visa. DEAL. It would have cost us more for a taxi there and back plus we would have had to collect our passports the next day! All we had to give them was 2 passport size photos and sign a form. They filled out the rest.
The receptionist then provided us with a George Town World Heritage site map and advised us of all the things we can do and see. She also gave us a list of bus numbers and the routes they take so we could get to those places further out of town. What an excellent service. They could not be more helpful or informative.
So we studied the map and went for a wonder.
Our hotel is situated right next to 'Little India' and it wasn't long before we were meandering along roads with the smells, sights and sounds just like the real India. Shops blaring out the latest Bollywood tunes, spice shops and sumptuous Indian curries cooking in the many restaurants all that was missing was the constant beeping horns from rickshaws and the odd cow ambling across the road.
The architecture in many parts of George Town is really quite amazing. It was declared a world heritage site only in July 2008. Our tourist guide suggests 3 different walks to do in order to appreciate all the different sights. We ended up walking most of them and have tried to name the places in the photos.
Down along the water front (Pengkalan Weld) is Chew Jetty. Here are some excellent examples of traditional Chinese fisher folk homes built on stilts over the water. You can walk right a long to the end past their little homes and get some idea of what it is like to live there. The water under the houses at the beginning of the jetty (near the land) was pretty stagnant and smelt repulsive. All waste water from their homes drops directly into the sea. We pitied those poor people living with that smell but with such poor incomes they have little choice.
After a busy day sight seeing what better way to finish it off with a local ......beer and a wicked freshly made curry from a little restaurant in Little India. Memories of our time in Southern India came flooding back. The happiness on the faces of the men when we choose their restaurant to eat at was brilliant. They sneaked looks towards us every so often to see how we were getting on eating with our hand, right one only mind which is a bit tricky for me (Caroline) as I'm left-handed! But I get by OK-ish.
Over the next few days we took good advantage of the cheap buses and explored further a field. Visiting the north of the island, Batu Feringghi where we found a nice sandy beach with the usual jet ski's and parasailing on offer, spoiling it a little somewhat.
Our tourist map also mentioned an area just out of town (take a bus there) called Bangkok Lane. There you find an elegant row of 1928 link houses. Walking down here felt like you were literally stepping back in time. It was a big contrast to the normal modern and run-down houses you saw in roads around the same area.
Adjacent to this road is Burma Lane where you find the Wat Chalyamangkalaram Thai Temple and opposite is Dhammikarama Burmese Temple. It's well worth a visit to both as they are so different and yet still jaw dropping in their own design. It was also a welcome respite for us as we had heard a thunder storm brewing in the distance for the last hour or so and while we were inside the rain just poured down. By the time we had visited both temples and taken a million and one photos of each, the rain stopped and we were able to take the bus back to George Town. Phew!
One place we would definitely recommend is a visit to Penang Hill. About 40 minutes outside of George Town by bus you are dropped off right at the base of the hill. They you can opt to walk the 3 hours or so up there or take the 'funicular' railway. You can guess we chose the easy option. Every half an hour the train (basically a cable car but on rails) ascends the 830 meters to the peak. You have to change carriages half way up and the whole journey takes about 30 minutes.
On the way up the views are restricted somewhat with the trees but from the top the views down to George Town and the vast expanse of Penang Bridge across to Butterworth are incredible. The air temperature is a couple of degrees cooler which is very welcome considering its about 30+ at the bottom.
Penang Hill was an early British hill station and that is very apparent when you look at the few buildings up there.
We couldn't resist a 'cream tea' at a 'charming' (as they say in jolly old England!) colonial house with beautiful gardens complete with pond full of beautiful lilies. David Brown's Restaurant was certainly a popular choice with both locals and other tourists but with us all having a little private area of garden, sitting a quaint tables and chairs you hardly noticed anyone around you. It was definitely a pleasant way to enjoy scones, cream and jam whilst enjoying the views all about us.
In all we spent 5 nights in Penang and really enjoyed every bit of it. Now it's time to head back to Thailand (now we have our 2 month visa) and get ready to meet some friends from home in Koh Tao.....fingers crossed.
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